MONTROSE— (December 18) Few people pay any mind to the old piles of bricks outside the Museum of the Mountain West. Few people, that is, except for Museum Founder Rich Fike.
“Rich just can’t throw anything away, even bricks,” Assistant Museum Director Mike Ackerman said. “We have quite a few samples, a number of different brands. And we do try to take note of the brands we see, and the different types.”
According to Cathleen Norman and Marilyn Cox, authors of the excellent “Montrose-Take a Closer Look, A Walking Tour Guide, (Preservation Publishing, 2006),” a man by the name of David Turface was making bricks from the local clay and firing them in a wood-fed kiln as early as the 1800’s.
“These were not the pressed brick which was too expensive and labor intensive to manufacture at that time,” the authors note, adding that it was the 1905 World’s Fair that gave another local man, J.F. Krebs, the idea of using “the worthless mountains of shale” near Montrose to make pressed bricks of a superior quality.
In 1907, Norman and Cox recall, a local businesswoman named Georgiana Buckley established Buckley Brick and Tile on Sunset Mesa.
“In 1909 her kiln turned out the first manganese brick ever made in western Colorado. It was beautiful, resembling granite, and made by adding a special substance to the shale. By 1910 her kilns were turning out pink and cream faced brick as well,” the authors write. The book also notes that Buckley, the widow of Senator William S. Buckley, established a lavish in-town estate, a portion of which remains today as Buckley Park.
Although she herself left Montrose in 1912 to care for her aged mother, Georgiana Buckley sold her brick plant to L.R. Allen in 1912. It was operated for a time as the Allen & Buckley Brick and Tile Company, finally closing in the 1940’s.
“The abandoned brick plant was dismantled in 1952,” Norman and Cox write, “but remains can still be seen today on the hillside below where it stood. Many of our local buildings were made from the bricks fired in this plant.”
According to www.deltacountyhistory.com, one of Delta’s loveliest landmarks, the historic Fairlamb House Bed & Breakfast (700 Leon Street), is constructed of tan brick from the former Delta Brick and Tile Company (once located at 536 West Eighth St.), as is Delta’s First Methodist Episcopal Church (199 East Fifth St.), the Delta Public Library (211 West 6th St.), and the Delta Post Office (360 Meeker St.).
All that remains today of the once large Delta Brick and Tile Company itself is Brickyard Hill, but the brick industry was an important of the area’s history, notes Delta County Historical Museum Director Jim Wetzel.
“The Delta Brick and Tile Company was started in 1905, and they closed in 1958 or 1959,” Wetzel said. “They produced the yellow brick that we see on so many buildings, and a red brick too although we can’t really tell it apart.”
The company was important to the local economy, and produced brick that was used all over Colorado, he said.
“It was quite a surprise to local masons when they first opened, because the brick was so much harder than what they were used to,” Wetzel said. “They took it straight from the hillside, and crushed it.”
One notable employee of the company was the father of Harry Dempsey, the young Colorado fighter who later achieved fame worldwide as Jack Dempsey.
Other local brickyards included the Sherman Brick Company in the North Fork, and Rollins Brickyard in North Delta. An early day company, Rollins produced the soft brick that today can be seen in buildings such as the Eatery, the Delta Chamber of Commerce, and the Columbine Mall, Wetzel said.
“They colored the soft bricks red,” he said, “with red paint.”
The Delta Brick and Tile Company eventually closed as other brick manufacturers made use of technology that allowed them to produce bricks more cheaply and efficiently. Today, Colorado’s brick making industry is concentrated in Denver, Wetzel said.
However, the many beautiful brick buildings that survive across the Western Slope are reminders of an earlier age.
“Like so many other businesses, things come and go in construction,” Ackerman said. “Styles change. But our old towns have lots of brick buildings because at that time, it was a cheap way to put a building up. We were short on lumber here, but we had lots of clay.”
With the passage of time have come new, more efficient construction methods, he noted.
At the Museum of the Mountain West, however, the old ways live on.
“Brick is very labor intensive,” said Ackerman. “We just put up a two-story hotel made with old brick here at the Museum. It took all summer to do, with our volunteer labor.”
The inspiration for the project was the acquisition of an 18-foot antique bar with a back mirror, he said.
“We built the hotel for it,” Ackerman said. “It’s beautiful—when you walk in, it’s like walking into an 1880’s hotel, because the brick is so much like the buildings from that time period.”